Linda Geary

Oakland, Painter // August 2011
The art world is basically you and me. There is no 'us' and 'them'. My interest has always been to have conversations with people in the studio.

When we arrived at Linda’s studio in Oakland, she met us out in the parking lot and led us into a building and up some stairs, and then into her studio where she paints. A few things struck me instantly: the space is expansive and bright with sunlight and color, the air seems to hang about easily, almost buoyantly, and nothing but the essentials occupy the room. This last fact was the most interesting to me. Usually when we visit artists’ studios there are often odds and ends about that in some way or another hint at their affinities, inspirations and intentions, and collectively these items create a portrait of sorts of who the artist might be. With Linda’s studio there is none of that; her space is bare bones, there is just the work itself and the necessary tools to make it. There are three chairs in the room, all paint splattered, that function as vantage points— Linda habitually takes time out to just sit and look at her work, paying attention to the light around it. Though her space is unadorned and practical, it is still very much alive with ingenuity, wonder, and exploration. This is true of Linda, too; she is incredibly engaged and open, beaming with curiosity and enthusiasm. She was so keen to discuss whatever question I put to her, and she allowed herself time and space to answer— often talking about peripheral ideas first, before getting to the heart of the matter. I really appreciated her way of being in a conversation; it’s unrestricted, charmingly wayward, and full of inquiry and observation. I left Linda’s studio with so many of her insights echoing in my thoughts, and still my memory continues to reverberate with bits and pieces of our conversation.

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
I’m an artist.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
Associate Professor of Painting/Grad Fine Arts at CCA. I love my job. We have a vibrant painting program at CCA, and the President of the school, Steve Beal, is a painter. I like the difference between undergraduate and graduate students. The undergrads are excited and experimenting like crazy and their work explodes. They’re so fired up about new ideas and they want everyone to like what they’re doing. The grads experience a certain sense of resistance, which has to do with a completely different pursuit, a deeper inquiry which is more internal and difficult. They’re at a different stage. Sometimes it’s about a shift in their artistic identity or just dealing with a relentless set of questions. I like the difficulty of that too.
I also teach a New York Studio class at CCA where I take a group of students to New York and they have studios there- so they work on their own projects- and then we also do several studio visits with artists.

What mediums do you work with?
Painting mediums: oil, canvas, panel. Gouache, watercolor, and acrylic on paper. Collage.

How would you describe your subject matter?
Body, space, and time.

What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
The idea of proprioception, how one senses one’s own body in space and how that relates to physical space and the translation of that into painting. The absence of it is vertigo.

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
Devotional Cinema, Nathaniel Dorsky.
Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations (Clark Coolidge).
Chromophobia, David Batchelor.
Scott Hewicker’s Streaming Radio Show on KUSF-In-Exile: every first and third Wednesday night from 9pm-Midnight.
Suzanne Stein’s SFMOMA Open Space Blog.

What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them?
The doubt that can sabotage an idea before it has been pushed far enough. I talk to a few different friends to get perspective. Philip Guston talks about having that one friend who can come into the studio and look at the work and assure you that you’re not insane.

How do you navigate the art world?
A long time ago I sent Larry Rinder a letter asking him to come to my studio and he responded right away and came over to the studio. I was surprised at how easy that was. We had a nice conversation. I showed him a group of large paintings and then at the end he said, “if your work changes let me know and I’ll come back.” And I remember thinking ok, I get it, this is about a conversation, this isn’t about getting a show, and I have a choice in how I look at this. I can be offended that he didn’t really respond that positively to the work, or I can look at it as an opportunity to start a conversation with a new person. This is my approach to the art world. The art world is basically you and me. There is no “us” and “them.” My interest has always been to have conversations with people in the studio. Also, I try not to compare myself to others because that doesn’t work.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
I’m pretty private about my studio. The artists Sally Elesby and Amanda Curerri have studios downstairs. It’s nice knowing they’re there working but sometimes days go by where we don’t talk. At the end of the day when I’m leaving the studio I don’t talk for a while. I love working on a sunny day because the light is so good. The first thing I do when I get there in the morning is sit and look at the light.

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you’re making now?
I was on sabbatical this past year and at the beginning of that time I had a show at Rena Bransten Gallery where I showed three bodies of work. I showed a body of smaller works that contained more experimental ideas and then more finished larger oil paintings. We did a catalog and Leigh Markopoulos wrote a beautiful essay. It was a great opportunity to see the working out of these three divergent ideas. I have a completely different view of that show now than I did in November and my current interest is to see how those works can fall apart and spill into each other.

In June, I spent some time at the Bau Institute in Puglia, Italy, which is far down on the heel of the boot of Italy, almost to Greece. I had a studio there and did works on paper that are now informing my larger paintings. In Italy I was able to work looser and with more improvisation. There is a clarity of visual information there— the architectural shapes and forms, the clear turquoise of the water, the brightness of the light. It just seeps in through osmosis. I have these works on paper in the studio now and am in the process of translating them into my larger paintings. It’s all trial and error.

Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
It’s not narrative. If there was a word that describes a physical autobiography having to do with documenting a life through the physical material world and the bodily response to time and space through the varying materials of paint, then maybe.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I’m excited about my new paintings but I don’t have a lot to say about them right now. I’m also working on a book with Colter Jacobsen called Studio Visit. It’s a condensed version of conversations with 100 artists, writers, curators, and gallerists. I’ve done 73 so far. I’ve put the book project on hold for the last few months in order to getback to the paintings. These visits have changed the way I look at my own work. I’ve been experimenting with taking my paintings apart and putting them back together with an altered timing, a different sequence, and as a result everything in the studio has changed.

What are you most proud of?
The balance I maintain between teaching and studio. I keep them extremely separate for practical reasons. At the same time, what I’m doing in the studio is intrinsically connected to what I bring to class. If nothing is going on in the studio, I have nothing to teach. If I’m teaching too much I have nothing to bring to the studio.

What do you want your work to do?
To be able to exist without an artist’s statement.

What advice has influenced you?
Don’t make decisions based solely on money.

How will you know when you have arrived?
I can’t relate to this question but it makes me think of the earlier question about how to navigate the art world and that the focus for me is always on the work, and conversations about the work. There is no “arriving” when the focus is entirely on the work. It’s just whatever the present problems in the studio are, and they never go away.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
In the next few months, the culmination of my Studio Visit book project with Colter Jacobsen.

To see more of Linda’s work:

  • nikkigrattan

    FYI: Linda Geary has a show up right now at 2nd Floor Projects in San Francisco.